Plymouth Armada Heroes


William Hawkins the Elder

PLYMOUTH in the sixteenth century was very different from the Plymouth of the present day. A chart, drawn in the time of King Henry VIII., shows that the whole town was then situated in the neighbourhood of Sutton Pool; that the Castle stood near where the Citadel now is, the site of which was partly occupied by bulwarks; and that a chain was thrown across the entrance of Sutton Pool: so that the old of Sutton, or Plymouth, in appearance and size was something like Dartmouth now, with the houses rising one above another from the water's edge up the hill to St. Andrew's Church and the Castle.

The town was incorporated by Act of Parliament of King Henry VI., 1439-1440, "within these bounds" [there was an older corporation of some kind; "namely, between the Hill called the Winnrigge and the back of Surpool, towards the North, unto the great ditch, and from thence to the North Stoke Damerell fleet, by the shore of that fleet to Milbrooke bridge inclusively. From thence toward the East by the Middleditch of Houndscombe bridge to Thornhill Park, thence to Lipson bridge, and from thence by the sea-shore, continuing to the Lare and Catt of Hingston Fishtorre and East King, thence to the said hill of Winnrigge, as the bounds and metes there plainly showed." The Mayor and Commonalty were to hold the Borough of the King by 40s. paid yearly into the Exchequer, and to make stone towers and [page *1] fortifications about the town for defence. William Kitherige was the first Mayor appointed by the King, and afterwards the Mayor was to be chosen every year upon St. Lambert's day and sworn on Michaelmas day before II o'clock. The Mayor and Commonalty to make Burgesses (or Freemen) as often as they pleased for the government of the town.

Plymouth was the home or birthplace, not of one distinguished sailor of the Hawkins family only, but of three generations in succession, of men who were celebrated as naval heroes for a period of one hundred years, extending over the reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, and James I.

These Hawkinses were an extra ordinary race-"gentlemen," as Prince quaintly phrases, "of worshipful extraction for several descents," but made more worshipful by their deeds. "For three generations they were the master spirits of Plymouth in its most illustrious days; its leading merchants, its bravest sailors, serving oft and well in the civic chair and in the House of Commons. For three generations too they were in the van of English seamanship; founders of England's commerce in south and west and east; stout in fight, of quenchless spirit in adventure-a family of merchants, statesmen, and heroes, to whom our country affords no parallel." *2

The arms of Hawkins, as given above, were probably used from the time Edward III. The castle of Manconseil was taken and garrisoned by three hundred men, under Rabigois of Derry, an Irishman, and Franklyn and Hawkins, two English esquires, in 1338. The origin of these arms is most likely from this expedition, the scaling ladder being represented by the saltire, the fleurs-de-lis being on the standard of France, which was captured.

The name of Hawkins is derived from the village of Hawking, in the Hundred of Folkstone. Osbert de Hawking, in the reign of Henry II, was an ancestor of Andrew Hawkins of Nash Court, near Faversham, Kent, in the reign of Edward III.; which Andrew married Joan de Nash, an heiress, by whom the Hawkinses became possessed of Nash Court, and from whom are descended the Hawkinses of Devon.

A branch of the Hawkinses of Nash Court probably settled in Plymouth during the fifteenth century. John Hawkins held lands in the town under the Corporation before 1480, and was dead by or before 1490, when his heirs held them. This was before the Hawkinses were at Tavistock.* William Hawkins, son of John Hawkins (who had lived at Tavistock), and Joan, daughter of William Amadas, of Launceston, was born probably at Plymouth towards the end of the fifteenth century. He was an officer in the navy of King Henry VIII. Being one of the principal sea captains in the West of England, he obtained a high and just reputation for his skill and experience, and was held in great esteem and favour by the King. He is thought to be the same Hawkins who in 1513 was master of the "Great Galley," one of the few Royal ships of that time.

This William Hawkins was a man of large fortune and estates, owning considerable property in Plymouth, and one of the richest (if not the richest) men in the town. His name stands fifth on the oldest extant list of Plymouth freemen. He was Receiver of Plymouth in 1524-1525; and in the Corporation oks he is mentioned in 1527-1528, when he with others manned the bulwarks to defend the "arrogosye ageynst the ffrenchemen;"

Item received of tharrogosye** for defending their ship against the French- men that would have taken her, xvjli xiv~ ivd.

Hawkins also sold to the town a quantity of gunpowder, 196 lbs. at 6d. a lb., and two brass guns, paid for in three annual instalments of £8.

The first voyage into the Southern Seas in which any Englishman was *3

* The family occur as holding property in Plymouth in a rent roll of 1485.

** The argosy; probably a large Spanish merchantman. concerned was that of Sebastian Cabot, from Seville to the River Plate, in April, 1527. This expedition was set forth by Spanish merchants; but one Robert Thorne and his partner advanced 1,400 ducats, "principally for that two Englishmen, friendes of mine,* which are somewhat learned in cosmographie, should goe in the same ships, to bring me certain relation of the situation of the country, and to be expert in the nauigation of those seas."

The voyage was intended for the Moluccas. We have no means of knowing who these two "cosmographical Englishmen" were; but the first independent expeditions, and the first to proceed from England, to the thereafter famous Spanish Main, sailed from Plymouth Sound, and were the private ventures of our Plymouth merchant, William Hawkins the elder, who was thus one of the earliest pioneers to Brazil in the reign of Henry the Eighth.

As William Hawkins made at least three voyages (the second and third in 1530 and 1532 respectively), his earliest can hardly have been later than 1528, when "he armed out a tall and goodlie ship of his own of 200 tons," called the Paul of Plymouth; his desire being to venture further than the ordinary short voyages made to the various coasts of Europe at that time. In this ship William Hawkins made his three long and famous voyages to Brazil - "a thing very rare in those days, especially for our nation "t - touching at the coast of Guinea, where he traficked with the negroes, and procured elephants' teeth and other commodities, and then crossing the Atlantic to Brazil to exchange his cargo for other goods, with which he returned to England. In Brazil he behaved himself so wisely with the savage people that he grew into great familiarity and friendship with them ; insomuch that on his second voyage, in 1530, one of their savage kings was contented to take ship and return with him to see the wonders of England; Captain Hawkins leaving Martin Cockeram, of Plymouth, behind as a pledge of their king's safe return.

They arrived safely in England, and the Brazilian chief was taken to Whitehall and presented to Henry VIII. On seeing him the King and Court were much astonished, and not, as was said, without cause; "for in his cheeks were holes made, and therein small bones were planted, standing an inch out from the said holes, which in his own country was reported for a great bravery. He had also another hole in his nether lip, wherein was set a precious stone about the bigness of a pease; all his apparell, behaviour, and gesture were very strange to the beholders "-as may be imagined; he being the first savage chief brought to England.



Having spent nearly a year in this country, and the King with his sight fully satisfied, Captain Hawkins was returning with him to Brazil; but it fell out on the way that, by change of air and alteration of diet, the savage king died at sea, which was feared would be the cause of Martin Cockeram, his pledge, being put to death by the savages; but they were persuaded of the honest dealing of our men with their prince, and restored the hostage to his friends, who with their ship freighted and furnished with the goods of the country, returned to England." Martin Cockeram lived at Plymouth for many years after this adventure.

William Hawkins made his third voyage in 1532, and on his return was chosen Mayor of Plymouth, 1532-3. In which year "King Henry VIII. married Anne Bollen, in November, 1532; Queen Katharine being divorced by Parliament. Queen Elizabeth was born 7th September, 1534."* In 1535 Hawkins lent money to the Corporation of Plymouth, receiving £4 a year until the loan was returned.

He was again Mayor in 1538-9, the year in which the King first established a Council for the West at Tavistock, and images in churches were pulled down. In 1539 he was elected "Burgess," or member of Parliament, with James Horswell.

Thus William Hawkins was one of the oldest members of the Plymouth Corporation, when, in 1540, he duly accounted for the proceeds of the "Church juells plate, and furniture," taken by the Corporation at the Reformation, which had been delivered to him when mayor; and sold, apparently in London. A much larger quantity of Church plate and jewels was handed to him in 1543-4, to by therwith for the towne gunpowder; bowys, & for arrowys." These were purchased in London- 10 barrels of gunpowder, 20 bows, and 30 sheaves of arrows.

Plymouth at this time, as would appear from the practical use thus made of the Church property as relics of Popery, had become strongly Puritan. During Queen Elizabeth's reign the local Puritan feeling, moreover, grew by the Huguenots making the port their head-quarters, and also by be frequent expeditions made from Plymouth against the Spaniards. William Hawkins himself was thoroughly imbued with the Reforming spirit.

* Plymouth Corporation Records, in which it was the Custom to enter the more remarkable events, local and national. *5

In 1544, William Hawkins purchased the manor of Sutton Valletort, or Vawter (which remained in the Hawkins family until 1637-8), of Sir Hugh Pollard, for 1000 marks; and his other property in Plymouth included quays and warehouses on Sutton Pool. Among the deeds entered in the Plymouth "Black Book" we find, ' 28th Henry VIII., Margery Pyne and others to Wm. Hawkins, merchant, conveyance of a tenement and garden in a certain venella, on the east of Kinterbury Street." In 1545, one between Peter Gryslyng and William Hawkyns; while 37th Henry VIII. a deed was registered in the "Black Book" transferring property in Plymouth from John Talazon, of North Petherwin, to William Hawkins.

In 1545-6, £4 was paid to Wm. Hawkins "for the Burgesses of the Parliament;" while in 1547 he was again chosen to represent the community, and in the following year received £14 for his services. He must have been very popular in Plymouth; for he was also elected member of Parliament in 1553, with Roger Budokeside (a connection of his through his mother, Joan Amadas). He died towards the close of the year.

A deed dated 8 February, 1554,* states that "Henry Hawkins clerk** (in orders), recently of Plymouth, brother and heir of William Hawkins Merchant recently deceased, for a sum of money gives up land in Plymouth to William Hawkins son of Joan Trelawny."

William Hawkins married Joan, sole daughter and heiress of Roger Trelawny, Esq., of Brightorre, third son of Sir John Trelawny and Blanche Pownde.***

His two sons, William and John Hawkins, the distinguished seamen and naval heroes, entered the service with great advantages, owing to the wealth and experience of their father.

* The family of Hawkins of Cornwall also come from and bear the arms of Hawkins of Nash Court, Kent. The ancestor of the late Sir Christopher Hawkins, Bart., of Trewitban, settled in Cornwall in 1554. It is probable that he went into Cornwall from Plymouth, and was the henry hawkins mentioned above, who in this year 1554 describes himself as recently of Plymouth.

** Edmund Tremayne's father, in 1524, presented henry hawkins with the living of Lamerton.

*** Over the west gate of the town of Launceston, now removed, were the arms and effigy of Henry V., below which was the following rhyme - "He that will do aught for mee, Let hym love well Sir John Tirlawnee."

Sir John Trelawny was with the King at Agincourt in 1415, and as a reward for his bravery had the three oak, or laurel leaves, added to the family arms, with a pension of £20 per annum. *6

[Book converted for the Web © Paul Welbank, 1997]